Four steps to a great content marketing plan

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck September 30, 2015
Summary:
Content without a plan is a waste of marketing budgets. To win customers with relevant content, you'll need a better approach.

man-balancing-wood
You have a great product, but it’s relatively unknown in your market. You think a content marketing strategy will help increase awareness of both your brand and the product, but you aren’t sure how to get started.

Whether you are trying to reach a new market geographically or use case-wise, content marketing can be very helpful - assuming you do it right.

Here are four steps you need to follow to ensure your content marketing strategy.

Define your business case

Before you even start thinking about creating content, take the time to map out the business case for your product or service. There’s a lot that needs to be understood before you start working on a content marketing plan such as:

  • What need are you trying to fill?
  • How does your product fill it?
  • Where does the product sit within the customer lifecycle?
  • How does this product fit with the rest of your products/services? Is this the only product you will sell?
  • How will you support your product?
  • How will you measure the success of your product?

There are many more questions you may need to answer depending on the type of product/service you are selling. However, if you can answer these questions, then you are ready to get started with the process of defining a content marketing strategy.

Develop 1-2 key personas

You have a product, and you know the need you are trying to fill with it. But what does the customer you are selling to look like? Although it’s possible to have many different target user groups for your product, your content marketing strategy can’t cater to all of them.

To get started, you need to narrow down your target buyer to one or two key personas and build your strategy around them. Once you have your content marketing strategy in place for these personas and are executing successfully, you can think about defining additional personas and building a plan for them.

A persona is a detailed definition of a person you want to sell your product. Some suggest your persona needs to be very specific outlining as much information as you can, down to what they look like and their personal information. This type of persona creates a view of the ultimate buyer. Others suggest you don’t need to get that detailed. You just need to understand clearly the key elements of the persona: market vertical job title, company size, key responsibilities, key challenges and pain points, etc.. This second approach seems much more appropriate because you focus on the problems and challenges that lead to the need for your product.

To develop your persona(s), you need to do a fair amount of research. If you already have customers for your product, then it’s much easier to develop personas because you have the base information needed. If you don’t have customers for your product, then there are a number of ways you can find the information required to develop the persona.

Here are some research approaches you can use:

  • Conduct interviews with industry analysts who understand the market for your product. These analysts typically have contact with organizations who meet the criteria you’ve defined in your business case and can provide you high-level information about buyers, challenges, pain points and requirements.
  • Research and interview related associations and organizations. Maybe there’s an industry association related to the challenges your product helps resolve. It may offer research or the ability to conduct research on your behalf. If you join, you may be able to reach out to people from potential companies who you can interview to get a better idea of the persona you need to develop. Likewise, you could have an independent consultant reach out to organizations to conduct interviews/surveys.
  • Analyze social media. Research hashtags, job profiles, media sites and influencers to get as much information as you can.
  • If you have existing customers for other products, you may be able to get some clues into the personas that would purchase the new product through purchase history and interviews.
  • Research competitors. You can learn a lot about who your potential buyers are by what the competition is doing. Look at their channel strategies/marketing materials (website, whitepapers, advertising), etc.

Pull all of this information together and start developing your personas. If you do have many different potential personas for your product, think about which ones have the highest potential for purchasing and turning into lifetime customers - those are the personas you need to focus on first.

Map the buyer’s journey to purchase

Journey maps are important descriptions of how a potential buyer moves from the identification of a need to ultimately purchasing your product. What’s very important to understand and remember as you map out a persona’s journey is that it’s about the customer, not your product. You also need to understand that a journey is never a straight line; there are bumps and rewinds and drop offs only to return further into the journey at a later stage.

The buyer’s journey is ultimately a story you need to understand and build your content marketing strategy around. As you map a persona’s journey, think about the channels they use and when they use them, the activities they perform, the experience they expect when they interact with your brand along their journey and what they need from you (content and otherwise) to help them with their decision process.

There are tools available to help you define personas and create journey maps, but you can also develop your manual process and documentation. For more complicated the personas and journeys consider using a tool such as Akoonu or Touchpoint Dashboard.

Map out your content assets to the buyer’s journey

You have your persona(s) defined. You’ve mapped out the buyer’s journey. Now you need to align your content strategy to that persona and their journey.

With your journey map in hand, look at each stage of the journey where content needs to be provided. Think about the channel used and the type of content requested. Start mapping content assets against the journey in detail.

It could be a whitepaper downloaded from your website during an initial research stage, viewing your website product pages during evaluation, searches performed on support questions or pricing during the product list narrowing phase. Everywhere along the journey to purchase content is accessed and used to either move the buyer further along their path or drop them off completely. The goal of your content strategy is to provide the right information at the right time in the right context.

Remember that the buyer’s journey isn’t only about what a potential buyer might be looking for on your website, but also on other websites, over social media, on media sites and more. Think about how you can provide content to other sites, not to sell your product but to demonstrate your understanding of the challenges and pain points and how you see these challenges overcome. This content is part thought leadership, part influencer marketing, and part social media marketing.

Finally, don’t forget to define how your content marketing strategy will be tracked and measured. You need to know what you expect to see from each content asset you create and from your strategy overall. Define your KPIs and how you will measure them.

Final thoughts - don’t forget to promote your content

You may have the best product in the world, but if no one knows about it, does it matter? The same goes for your content. You may be creating the best content in the world, exactly what your potential customers need, but if you aren’t promoting it then no one will know it’s there and it becomes useless information.

Social media is critical to your promotion of content, across your channels and others. Pitch thought leadership story ideas to media sites identify potential influencers who will share your content. Think of how you can leverage PR to promote your content to a wider audience. SEO and SEM are also key to getting your content in the hands of the personas you are trying to reach.

Again, don’t forget to implement approaches to track the performance of your content promotion strategy and adjust it as necessary.

Be prepared to adjust your content marketing strategy and metrics as you see how your content performs. The journey may change, content may not be right, or delivered in the right way, the persona may change. Nothing is written in stone; you need to be flexible and adapt as necessary.

Image credit: Planning, strategy or investing in business concept © Kenishirotie - Fotolia.com